Thursday, January 1, 2009

Time for answers

Yeah, I'm a day late with the New Years Eve-themed Friends video, but this scene always cracked me up. Plus, it's two Monica Geller references in two days, which is some sort of record. Tomorrow: A clip from "Dancing In The Dark!"

First things first: Sorry for the longer-than-anticipated holiday sabbatical. Christmas and the subsequent several days have been crazier than we imagined and posting has been difficult to fit into the schedule.

Particular apologies to those of you discovering this little corner of the Internet over the last few days. We had a couple of our best traffic days ever after “EvanJ” linked the blog on the Hofstra board at over the long weekend. Thanks to EvanJ for the link and to everyone who has stopped by for the first time the last few days.

If I were running a newspaper or another media company that rewarded incompetent executives, I’d see the increased traffic and deduce that I didn’t have to do a thing the rest of the season, that the surge of activity meant people would come to the site no matter what I posted. Alas, I’ll resist the urge to further deliver the snark and merely pledge to do my best to turn the newcomers into regular visitors by providing regular content that Hofstra fans will appreciate, especially now that conference season is ready to start.

So climb aboard. There’s plenty of room on the bandwagon...a lot more than there was a few weeks ago, anyway. The hope was that the weak OOC would give the Dutchmen time to build confidence, cohesion and an identity. The Dutchmen appeared to have all three elements in a 90-81 win over Towson in the look-but-you-can’t-touch CAA opener Dec. 6, but since then Hofstra is 3-2 and has notched only one win by more than five points.

The team that once seemed to have an impressive combination of strong guard play and front court depth has only displayed bits and pieces of each over most of the last four weeks. Even a slumping Charles Jenkins looks like an all-timer in the making while Greg Washington is displaying the talent that had some hoping he could become the best big man Hofstra’s ever had. And while the value of Cornelius Vines has been debated on the Hofstra board, I think he’s a keeper—one who will run hot and cold but whose unconscious shooting touch will be an asset more often than not.

Other than that, though, the Dutchmen are riddled with question marks. The struggles of Tony Dennison as well as the lack of a true point guard make relying on a trio of guards difficult, if not impossible. Jenkins has been serving as the de facto point guard, but his rough last four games (during which he’s made just 17 of 60 shots from the field) make it clear that the best Dutchmen team is one that doesn’t rely on him in that role.

Vines has played some point and has led the Dutchmen in assists three times this season, but trying to turn a gunslinger into a floor general sounds like square-peg-into-round-hole disastrous (and with that, I think I set the DD record for most basketball clich├ęs in one sentence…ehh, like with my diet, I’ll resolve to be better starting tomorrow). Dennison doesn’t seem to be an option at the point either: His two assists Saturday tied his season high in that category.

Yet the point guard will likely have to emerge from one of those three. Greg Johnson, the purest point guard on the roster, has played less than 10 minutes in three of his last four games and five of 10 overall (plus two DNPs). I’m going to stick by my oft-stated prediction that he has a Roberto Gittens-like second half of his senior season, but the likelihood of that occurring decreases by the day.

One thing that may be getting overlooked with Vines and Dennison: They’re in mostly unchartered territory as guards who transferred to Hofstra from a JUCO. Most of the guards (Lawrence Thomas is the only exception I can think of off the top of my head) in the Defiantly Dutch era have been recruited as freshmen.

Miklos Szabo, Dane Johnson and Darren Townes are the latest in a long line of big men who transfer to Hofstra after two years elsewhere. So the benefit of the doubt should be awarded to Vines and Dennison as they transition to the Division I game…even if patience will be in ever-shorter supply starting Saturday.

Speaking of Szabo, Johnson and Townes, sort of…Washington appeared to rank behind all three of those guys on the depth chart in mid-November, so to assume Washington would become a valuable contributor would be to assume the Dutchmen were even deeper than envisioned in the front court.

Alas, not so much. Washington has increasingly been the lone reliable big man, a familiar story for Pecora and the Dutchmen.

Szabo played just 10 minutes, his second-lowest total of the season, and saw his streak of six straight starts snapped Saturday. He’s collected three points and five boards in the last two games and has yet to provide much more than occasional flashes of dominance.

It’s safe to assume Szabo will continue to gradually transition to Division I and, hopefully for the Dutchmen, make the second-year leap that Adrian Uter enjoyed in 2005-06. But there are no obvious explanations for the inconsistency of Johnson or the inexplicable regression of Townes.

Johnson had his best game in six weeks Saturday, when he had seven points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes. That’d be pretty valuable production, if only the Dutchmen could count on it: Saturday marked only the second time since Johnson was removed from the starting lineup following the Manhattan game that he has played at least 20 minutes and/or collected a combined 15 points and rebounds.

Townes is a favorite of this corner, but it seems as if he’s dangerously close to afterthought status. And the oddest thing is I can’t figure out why. He always gets plenty of PT in the first half, looks pretty good, hustles down low and regularly makes an “oooh” play—a block, a dunk, a nice grab of a board—yet ends up with splinters from riding the pine in the second half. Townes averaged 28.5 minutes per game last season, yet has exceeded that mark just once in 12 contests and has played exactly eight minutes in three of his last five games.

Lots of questions and the grace period, such as it is, ends Saturday at 1:59 p.m. A few minutes later would be a perfect time for the Dutchmen of Towson to reappear.

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